One in every five Americans does some volunteer work for church, school, other organizations, according to Current Population Survey
Every year, millions of Americans give their time, talents, and skills, without pay, to a wide variety of organizations and institutions. Under the auspices of schools, hospitals, churches, and so forth, these volunteers perform many different tasks, such as assisting the elderly or disabled, coaching children's athletics, helping with church or school activities, or providing staff assistance for political or other organizations.
Who are these volunteers? Where, or for whom, do they perform volunteer work? How much time do they spend at these unpaid activities? Some answers to these questions are available from data obtained from supplementary questions included in the May 1989 Current Population Survey.(1) This article reports on the findings from the survey and compares them to findings from earlier surveys on the same subject, providing a historical perspective on the phenomenon of volunteer activity.
About 38 million people were reported as having volunteered for work without pay for an institution or organization at some time during the year ended in May 1989.(2) This represented about 1 out of every 5 persons in the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over. The incidence of voluntarism varied considerably by a number of demographic and economic characteristics. For instance, persons in the 35- to 44-year-old age group were more likely than those younger or older to have done some volunteer work. Whites were more likely than blacks or Hispanics to report volunteer work. And, college graduates were more likely to contribute their time and skills as volunteers than persons with fewer years of schooling.
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Overall, about 22 percent of women and 19 percent of men did some work as unpaid volunteers for an organization or institution during the year ended in May 1989. The proportions of persons with some volunteer work ranged from about 13 percent among women under age 25 to 31 percent among those 35 to 44 years old, tapering off to 18 percent among those 65 and over. The pattern was similar for men. The fact that women were slightly more likely than men to volunteer, combined with the fact that they out-number men in the population, meant that the majority (56 percent) of volunteers were women.
Part of the reason why women were …